On social media, in sermons, private correspondences, and with my parishioners and brother clergy, I have been consistent in my vocal protest of Putin’s criminal and deeply sinful invasion of Ukraine. Along the way, some people have asked me if I think they have a moral obligation to condemn the war. This can be an especially painful question for my Russian friends and parishioners who feel torn between what they see in the media and their quite reasonable and praiseworthy love of Russia.
So the short answer is, no, no one has an obligation to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Let me explain.
Not everyone must speak out against every injustice. To demand this of yourself or others is simply to add one more injustice to human life. Besides this, in a fallen world attempting to fulfill such a demand would overwhelm us paralyzing both ourselves and society.
At the same time whether by word or our example, to counsel silence, or what is worse, to require silence as the hallmark of Christian piety is wholly misguided and represents a serious abdication of our obligations as Christians. Why?
I think the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich gives us a good answer:
The Holy is not only that which is; the Holy is also that which ought to be, that which demands justice above all. If, therefore, a religion neglects its social and political implications, a reaction of the neglected side occurs and may be not only victorious over but also destructive of the whole sacramental system.
Theology of Culture (Oxford University Press 1959), pg. 182.
As Orthodox Christians, we believe that in taking on our nature, the Son takes on the whole of human life. Not just the soul or the body, but culture, society, politics, and all human endeavors. All of these are assumed by the Son and so come to share in the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).
To require a person to speak out violates their dignity every bit as much as forbidding them from speaking. Likewise, with manipulating them to either speak or remain silent.
We cannot correct one injustice by committing another.